MSNBC is an American news cable and satellite television network that provides news coverage and political commentary from NBC News on current events. MSNBC is owned by the NBCUniversal News Group, a unit of the NBCUniversal Television Group division of NBCUniversal (all of which are ultimately owned by Comcast). MSNBC and its website were founded in 1996 under a partnership between Microsoft and General Electric's NBC unit, hence the network's naming. Although they had the same name, msnbc.com and MSNBC maintained separate corporate structures and news operations. msnbc.com was headquartered on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington while MSNBC operated out of NBC's headquarters in New York City. Microsoft divested its stakes in the MSNBC channel in 2005 and in msnbc.com in July 2012. The general news site was rebranded as NBCNews.com, and a new msnbc.com was created as the online home of the cable channel.
In the late summer of 2015, MSNBC revamped its programming; the moves were in sharp contrast to previous programming decisions at the network. MSNBC sought to sharpen its news image by entering into a dual editorial relationship with its organizational parent NBC News. MSNBC Live, the network's flagship daytime news platform, was expanded to cover over eight hours of the day.
Phil Griffin is the president and director of day-to-day operations at MSNBC. Pat Burkey, Janelle Rodriguez, and Jonathan Wald oversee programming and news operations, with Brian Williams serving as the channel's chief anchor of breaking news coverage. As of February 2015, approximately 94,531,000 households in the United States (81.2 percent of those with television) were receiving MSNBC.
Commentators have described MSNBC as having a bias towards left-leaning politics and the Democratic Party. In November 2007, a New York Times article stated that MSNBC's prime-time lineup is tilting more to the left. Washington Post media analyst Howard Kurtz has stated that the channel's evening lineup "has clearly gravitated to the left in recent years and often seems to regard itself as the antithesis of Fox News". In 2011, Salon.com noted that "MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics."
|Launched||July 15, 1996|
|Owned by||NBCUniversal (Comcast)|
|Slogan||"This Is Who We Are"|
30 Rockefeller Plaza|
New York City, New York
|Replaced||America's Talking (1994–1996)|
|Selective TV, Inc.|
|K50DB-D (Channel 50.4)|
|Bell TV (Canada)||1588 (HD)|
|Shaw Direct (Canada)||511|
|Available on most cable providers||Check local listings for channels|
|AT&T U-verse / CenturyLink (US)||
|Bell Aliant TV (Canada)||243|
|Bell Fibe TV (Canada)||1506|
|Google Fiber (US)||103|
|TELUS TV (Canada)||97|
|Verizon FiOS (US)||
|VMedia (Canada)||185 (SD)|
|DirecTV Now||Internet Protocol television|
|Sling TV||Internet Protocol television|
|PlayStation Vue||Internet Protocol television|
MSNBC was established under a strategic partnership between NBC and Microsoft. NBC executive Tom Rogers was instrumental in developing this partnership. Microsoft invested $221 million for a 50 percent share of the cable channel. MSNBC and Microsoft shared the cost of a $200 million newsroom in Secaucus, New Jersey, for msnbc.com. The network took over the channel space of NBC's 2-year-old America's Talking (AT) network, although in most cases cable carriage had to be negotiated with providers who had never carried AT.
MSNBC was launched on July 15, 1996. The first show was anchored by Jodi Applegate and included news, interviews, and commentary. During the day, rolling news coverage continued with The Contributors, a show that featured Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, as well as interactive programming coordinated by Applegate, John Gibson, and John Seigenthaler. Stories were generally longer and more detailed than the stories CNN was running. NBC also highlighted their broadcast connections by airing stories directly from NBC's network affiliates, along with breaking news coverage from the same sources.
MSNBC gradually increased its emphasis on politics. After completing its seven-year survey of cable channels, the Project for Excellence in Journalism said in 2007 that, "MSNBC is moving to make politics a brand, with a large dose of opinion and personality."
In January 2001, Mike Barnicle's MSNBC show started, but it was canceled in June 2001 because of high production costs. In June, Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer said that he would not have started MSNBC had he foreseen the difficulty of attracting viewers.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, NBC used MSNBC as an outlet for the up-to-the-minute coverage being provided by NBC News as a supplement to the longer stories on broadcast NBC. With little financial news to cover, CNBC and CNBC Europe ran MSNBC for many hours each day following the attacks. The year also boosted the profile of Ashleigh Banfield, who was present during the collapse of Building 7 while covering the World Trade Center on September 11. Her Region In Conflict program capitalized on her newfound celebrity and showcased exclusive interviews from Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of September 11, MSNBC began calling itself "America’s NewsChannel" and hired opinionated hosts like Alan Keyes, Phil Donahue, Pat Buchanan, and Tucker Carlson; This branding makeover, however, was followed by declining ratings.
On December 23, 2005, NBC Universal announced its acquisition of an additional 32 percent share of MSNBC from Microsoft, which solidified its control over television operations and allowed NBC to further consolidate MSNBC's backroom operations with NBC News and its other cable properties. (The news website msnbc.com remained a separate joint venture between Microsoft and NBC for another seven years.) NBC later exercised its option to purchase Microsoft's remaining 18 percent interest in MSNBC.
In late 2005, MSNBC began attracting liberal and progressive viewers as Keith Olbermann began critiquing and satirizing conservative media commentators during his Countdown With Keith Olbermann program. He especially focused his attention on the Fox News Channel and Bill O'Reilly, its principal primetime commentator.
On June 7, 2006, Rick Kaplan resigned as president of MSNBC after holding the post for two years. Five days later, Dan Abrams, a nine-year veteran of MSNBC and NBC News, was named general manager of MSNBC with immediate effect. NBC News senior vice president Phil Griffin would oversee MSNBC, while continuing to oversee NBC News’ Today program, with Abrams reporting to Griffin.
On June 29, 2006, Abrams announced the revamp of MSNBC's early-primetime and primetime schedule. On July 10, Tucker (formerly The Situation with Tucker Carlson) started airing at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET (taking over Abrams' old timeslot), while Rita Cosby's Live & Direct was canceled. Cosby was made the primary anchor for MSNBC Investigates at 10 and 11 p.m. ET, a new program that took over Cosby and Carlson's timeslots. According to the press release, MSNBC Investigates promised to "complement MSNBC's existing programming by building on [the channel's] library of award winning documentaries." The move to taped programming during 10 and 11 p.m. probably resulted from MSNBC's successful Friday "experiment" of replacing all primetime programming with taped specials.
On September 24, 2007, Abrams announced that he was leaving his general manager position so he could focus on his 9:00 p.m. ET talk show, Live With Dan Abrams. Oversight of MSNBC was shifted to Phil Griffin, a senior vice president at NBC.
From mid-2007 to mid-2008, MSNBC enjoyed a large increase in its Nielsen ratings. Primetime viewings increased by 61 percent. In May 2008, NBC News president Steve Capus said, "It used to be people didn't have to worry about MSNBC because it was an also-ran cable channel.... That's not the case anymore." Tim Russert's sudden death in June 2008 removed what The Wall Street Journal called the "rudder for the network" and led to a period of transition.
During the 2008 presidential election, MSNBC's coverage was anchored by Olbermann, Chris Matthews, and David Gregory. They were widely viewed as the face of the channel's political coverage. During the first three months of the presidential campaign, MSNBC's ratings grew by 158 percent. Olbermann and Matthews, however, were criticized for expressing left-leaning opinions on the channel. Both were later removed from their anchor positions. Audience viewership during the 2008 presidential campaign more than doubled from the 2004 presidential election, and the channel topped CNN in ratings for the first time during the last three months of the campaign in the key 25–54 age demographic.
In September 2008, the channel hired political analyst and Air America Radio personality Rachel Maddow to host a new political opinion program called The Rachel Maddow Show. The move to create a new program for the channel was widely seen as a smart ratings move, where beforehand, MSNBC lagged behind in coveted primetime ratings. The show regularly outperformed CNN's Larry King Live, and made the channel competitive in the program's time slot for the first time in over a decade.
In the first quarter of 2010, MSNBC beat CNN in primetime and overall ratings, marking the first time doing so since 2001. The channel also beat CNN in total adult viewers in March, marking the seventh out of the past eight months that MSNBC achieved that result. In addition, the programs Morning Joe, The Ed Show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and The Rachel Maddow Show finished ahead of their time slot competitors at CNN.
In the third quarter of 2010, MSNBC continued its solid lead over CNN, beating the network in total day for the first time since the second quarter of 2001 in the key adult demographic. The network also beat CNN for the fourth consecutive quarter, among both primetime and total viewers, as well as becoming the only cable news network to have its key adult demographic viewership grow over the last quarter, increasing by 4 percent. During this time, MSNBC also became the number-one cable news network in primetime among both African American and Hispanic viewers.
On October 11, 2010, MSNBC unveiled a new televised advertising campaign and slogan called "Lean Forward". "We've taken on CNN and we beat them," MSNBC president Phil Griffin told employees at a series of celebratory "town hall" meetings. "Now it's time to take on Fox." Concerning the campaign, Griffin said, "It is active, it is positive, it is about making tomorrow better than today, a discussion about politics and the actions and passions of our time." The new campaign embraces the network's politically progressive identity. The two-year advertising campaign would cost $2 million and consist of internet, television, and print advertising. The new positioning has created brand image issues for msnbc.com, the umbrella website for the television network. A New York Times article quotes Charlie Tillinghast, president of msnbc.com, a separate company, as saying, "Both strategies are fine, but naming them the same thing is brand insanity." As a result, msnbc.com eventually changed its name to prevent confusion with the television network, MSNBC; it rebranded the more news-driven msnbc.com as NBCNews.com in July 2012.
On January 21, 2011, Olbermann announced his departure from MSNBC and the episode would be the final episode of Countdown. His departure received much media attention. MSNBC issued a statement that it had ended its contract with Olbermann, with no further explanation. Olbermann later revealed that he had taken his show to Current TV.
During 2014, MSNBC's total ratings in the 25 to 54 age group declined 20 percent, falling to third place behind CNN. The only demographic in which MSNBC still led was among Hispanics and even more so among African-Americans.
To help revive the struggling network, MSNBC in the summer of 2015 started transitioning from left-leaning, opinionated programming to hard news programming. Nearly all daytime opinionated news programs were replaced with more generic news programs. Ronan Farrow, Joy-Ann Reid, Krystal Ball, Touré, Abby Huntsman, Alex Wagner, Ed Schultz, and Al Sharpton lost their shows. News programs presented by established NBC News personalities such as Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart, Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd, Sunday NBC Nightly News anchor Kate Snow, Thomas Roberts, and former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams replaced the opinion shows. The revamped on-air presentation debuted in late summer 2015 and included a new logo, news ticker, and graphics package. MSNBC Live had at least eight hours of programming each day, barring any breaking news that could extend its time. Daytime news coverage was led primarily by Brian Williams, Stephanie Ruhle, Jose Diaz-Balart, Andrea Mitchell, Craig Melvin, Thomas Roberts, and Kate Snow, in addition to "beat leaders" stationed throughout the newsroom. These included chief legal correspondent Ari Melber, primary political reporter Steve Kornacki, business and finance correspondent Olivia Sterns, and senior editor Cal Perry. Morning and primetime programming did not change and remained filled mostly by opinionated personalities.
In April 2016, MSNBC launched a promotional ad campaign with the theme, "in order to know beyond, you have to go beyond." The campaign portrayed MSNBC's reporting and perspectives as "in depth" and an alternative to "talking points" coverage on other cable news outlets.
In July 2016, the network debuted Dateline Extra, which was an abridged version of Dateline NBC and another step towards aligning MSNBC and NBC News. The new program was hosted by MSNBC Live anchor Tamron Hall.
In September 2016, MSNBC launched The 11th Hour with Brian Williams as a nightly wrap-up of the day's news and a preview of the following day's headlines. This was MSNBC's first new primetime program in nearly four years.
In January 2017, MSNBC debuted a program in the 6 pm EST hour entitled For the Record with Greta, hosted by former Fox News Channel anchor Greta Van Susteren. The program aired for six months before being cancelled in late June 2017. The network promoted Chief legal Correspondent Ari Melber to host The Beat with Ari Melber at 6pm.
In March 2017, MSNBC started rebranding their daytime shows as "NBC News" programs. The network logos started appearing on show opens, within the set design, and in commercials. In May 2017, MSNBC launched a 4pm afternoon program entitled Deadline: White House and hosted by former White House communications director and NBC political analyst Nicolle Wallace.
For the first time, MSNBC in May 2017 became the highest rated American cable news network in primetime. MSNBC's increasing viewership was accompanied by declining numbers at the Fox News Channel. MSNBC's May 15–19 programming topped the programming of both CNN and the Fox News Channel in total viewers and the advertiser-coveted younger demographic.
Another significant change was made in April 16, 2018, when MSNBC completely removed the news ticker at the bottom of the screen on every program, citing the reason "for a cleaner view that puts our reporting more front and center ... and we want viewers to get the best possible experience". At the time of the change, CNN is still running the news ticker during live programming (although its sister networks, CNN International and HLN do not), meanwhile FOX News only scraps the news ticker during daytime news programs.
Before 2010, MSNBC was not available to Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse television subscribers in the portions of New York State, northern New Jersey, and Connecticut that overlapped Cablevision's service area. One of several reasons for this was an exclusive carriage agreement between MSNBC and Cablevision that prohibited competing wired providers from carrying MSNBC. The terms of the agreement were not publicly known.
In 2009, Verizon filed a formal "program-access complaint" with the Federal Communications Commission and petitioned for termination of the deal. In support of Verizon, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal argued that the arrangement could be illegal. After entering into a new contract, FiOS added the channel in New York City and New Jersey on February 2, 2010.
Programming included MSNBC programs and, to fulfill its Canadian content responsibilities, repeats of shows from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Cable Public Affairs Channel. The channel also ran infomercials.
In southern Africa, MSNBC is distributed free-to-air on satellite on Free2View TV as MSNBC Africa, a joint venture between Great Media Limited and MSNBC. Free2View airs MSNBC's programming from 4 p.m. to midnight ET in a block that repeats twice (live for the first airing), with local Weather Channel forecasts.
MSNBC programming is shown for most of the day on the 24-hour news network OSN News.
In Asia and Europe, MSNBC is not shown on a dedicated channel. When MSNBC started in 1996, they announced plans to start broadcasting in Europe during 1997. This never happened. However MSNBC has been seen occasionally on affiliate channel CNBC Europe. MSNBC was shown overnight at the weekend and during the afternoon on American public holidays as well as during breaking news events. MSNBC stopped being shown on CNBC Europe in the late 2000s and coverage of non-business related breaking news now comes from CNBC U.S.'s own coverage or from NBC News.
In Turkey, NTV-MSNBC is the news channel of the Turkish broadcaster NTV Turkey. The channel is a joint partnership between the two, although very little Turkish content is shown on English MSNBC. English content on MSNBC is translated into Turkish.
MSNBC and its website msnbc.com were launched concurrently. Unlike the network, msnbc.com was operated as the general online news outlet of NBC News in partnership with Microsoft's MSN.com portal. The network and website also remained editorially separate. The website did not adopt the network's increasingly liberal viewpoints and remained a joint venture with Microsoft even after it had sold its stake in MSNBC.
In July 2012, NBC acquired Microsoft's remaining stake in msnbc.com and re-branded it as NBCNews.com. After being redirected to the new name for a period, msnbc.com was re-launched in 2013 as the website for MSNBC. The website included opinion columns from hosts, correspondents, and guests, along with live and on-demand videos from MSNBC programs.
In July 2014, msnbc.com launched msnbc2, a brand for several web-only series hosted by MSNBC personalities. In December 2014, msnbc2 was renamed shift, with a programming schedule that was less focused on politics and more tailored to a younger audience.
MSNBC launched on XM Satellite Radio channel 120 and Sirius Satellite Radio channel 90 on April 12, 2010. This is the second time MSNBC has been available on satellite radio. The channel was dropped from XM Radio on September 4, 2006.
In November 2007, a New York Times article stated that MSNBC's primetime lineup was tilting more to the left. Since then, commentators have argued that MSNBC has a bias towards left-leaning politics and the Democratic Party. Washington Post media analyst and Fox News Channel contributor Howard Kurtz has claimed that the channel's evening lineup "has clearly gravitated to the left in recent years and often seems to regard itself as the antithesis of Fox News." In 2011, Politico referred to MSNBC as "left-leaning," and Steve Kornacki of Salon.com noted that, "MSNBC’s prime-time lineup is now awash in progressive politics." Regarding changes in the channel's evening programming, senior vice president of NBC News Phil Griffin claimed that "it happened naturally. There isn't a dogma we're putting through. There is a 'Go for it.'"
In the February 2008 issue of Men's Journal magazine, an MSNBC interviewee quoted a senior executive as saying that liberal commentator Keith Olbermann "runs MSNBC" and that "because of his success, he's in charge" of the channel. In 2007, The New York Times called Olbermann MSNBC's "most recognizable face". In September 2008, MSNBC stated that Olbermann and Chris Matthews would no longer anchor live political events, with David Gregory assuming that role. MSNBC cited the growing criticism that they were "too opinionated to be seen as neutral in the heat of the presidential campaign." Olbermann's show Countdown continued to run before and after the presidential and vice presidential debates, and both Matthews and Olbermann joined Gregory on the channel's election night coverage.
On November 13, 2009, in the days leading up to the release of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan used photoshopped pictures of Palin on the channel's Morning Meeting program. Ratigan apologized a few days later.
In October 2010, MSNBC began using the tagline "Lean Forward". Some media outlets, including msnbc.com, claimed that the network was now embracing its politically progressive identity.
In January 2012, MSNBC used Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and other network commentators during its coverage of the Iowa Republican caucuses. Nando Di Fino of the Mediaite website said MSNBC was "giving up on the straight news coverage, and instead [appearing] to be aiming to create some controversy."
In November 2012, The New York Times called MSNBC "The Anti-Fox" and quoted former President Bill Clinton as saying, "Boy, it really has become our version of Fox." Citing data from the A.C. Nielsen TV ratings service, the article noted that while the Fox News Channel had a larger overall viewership than MSNBC, the two networks were separated by only around 300,000 viewers among the 25–54 age bracket most attractive to advertisers.
In the Pew Research Center's 2013 "State of the News Media" report, MSNBC was found to be the most opinionated news network, with 85 percent of the content being commentary or opinions and the remaining 15 percent being factual reporting. The report also stated that in 2012, MSNBC spent only $240 million on news production compared to CNN's $682 million and the Fox News Channel's $820 million.
Some Democratic Party supporters, including former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Bill Clinton advisor Lanny Davis, criticized MSNBC during and after the 2008 Democratic Party primaries as covering Barack Obama more favorably than Hillary Clinton. Rendell said, "MSNBC was the official network of the Obama campaign," and called their coverage "absolutely embarrassing". Rendell later became an on-air contributor to MSNBC.
A study done by the Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that MSNBC had less negative coverage of Obama (14 percent of stories versus 29 percent in the press overall) and more negative stories about Republican presidential candidate John McCain (73 percent of its coverage versus 57 percent in the press overall). MSNBC's on-air slogan during the week of the 2008 presidential election, "The Power of Change", was criticized for being too similar to Obama's campaign slogan of "Hope and Change". After the election, conservative talk show host John Ziegler made a documentary entitled Media Malpractice.... How Obama Got Elected, which was very critical of the media's role, especially MSNBC's, in the election. While promoting the documentary, he had an on-air dispute with MSNBC news anchor Contessa Brewer about how the media, especially MSNBC, had portrayed Sarah Palin.
During MSNBC's coverage of the Potomac primary, MSNBC's Chris Matthews said, "I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often." This led Fox News to assert that both he and MSNBC were biased toward Obama.
In June 2010, the MSNBC documentary Rise of the New Right aired. It featured interviews with right-wing figures, including Dick Armey, the former House majority Leader, Orly Taitz, a leading figure in the "birther" movement, and conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones. The documentary also showed the Michigan Militia's survival training camp and hit the campaign trail with Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul.
The documentary angered Tea Party movement figures and others on the right. After the documentary aired, FreedomWorks, chaired by Armey, called for a boycott of Dawn and Procter & Gamble, which advertised during Hardball with Chris Matthews. The boycott was ineffective as Procter & Gamble continued to advertise on the show.
A study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that MSNBC's coverage of Mitt Romney during the final week of the 2012 presidential campaign (68 percent negative with no positive stories in the sample), was far more negative than the overall press, and even more negative than it had been during October 1 to 28, when 5 percent was positive and 57 percent was negative. On the other hand, their coverage of Barack Obama improved in the final week before the presidential election. From October 1 to 28, 33 percent of stories were positive and 13 percent negative. During the campaign's final week, 51 percent of MSNBC's stories were positive while there were no negative stories at all about Obama in the sample.
Political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry and her guest panel, in a look back on the 2013 segment of her show, featured a picture of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his extended family. Romney was holding on his knee his adopted grandchild, Kieran Romney, an African-American. Harris-Perry and her guests, including actress Pia Glenn and comedian Dean Obeidallah, joked about coming up with captions for the photo. Glenn sang out, "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same." Obeidallah said, "It sums up the diversity of the Republican Party and the [Republican National Committee], where they have the whole convention and they find the one black person." Afterwards, Harris-Perry issued an apology in a series of tweets.
During the spring and early summer of 2003, MSNBC featured a weekend talk show hosted by conservative radio host Michael Savage. In July of that year, Savage responded to a prank caller on his show by calling him a "pig" and a "sodomite", and telling him he "should get AIDS and die." Savage's show was canceled and Savage was fired from the channel shortly afterward (with some reports placing the termination immediately after the episode in question ended).
In early April 2007, Don Imus, whose radio show Imus in the Morning was simulcast on MSNBC for over ten years, described members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "some nappy-headed hoes." The comments sparked outrage, as many considered them to be racist and sexist. After sponsors began to withdraw advertisements from the show, MSNBC canceled the simulcast. Imus, as well as NBC News, apologized to the Rutgers Basketball team for the remarks. The television simulcast of Imus' program later moved to RFD-TV until August 2009 and then to Fox Business Network until May 2015.
On November 5, 2010, MSNBC President Phil Griffin suspended Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay for contributing $2,400 (the maximum personal donation limit) to each of three Democratic Party candidates during the 2010 midterm election cycle. NBC News policy prohibited contributions to political campaigns unless NBC News had given its prior permission. On November 7, 2010, Olbermann posted a thank you message to supporters via Twitter. That same day, MSNBC announced that he would be back on the air starting on November 9.
Two weeks later, Griffin announced the suspension of Joe Scarborough for the same offense, as the Morning Joe host had donated $4,000 to Republican candidates in Florida. Like Olbermann's suspension, Scarborough's suspension was brief, and he returned to the airwaves on November 24. On January 21, 2011, MSNBC announced that Olbermann would host his final show that same night.
Host Martin Bashir resigned after making a controversial comment about Sarah Palin. On November 15, 2013, Bashir criticized Palin for equating the federal debt to slavery. Bashir referred to the cruel and barbaric punishment of slaves as described by slave overseer Thomas Thistlewood, specifically a punishment called "Derby's dose", which forced slaves to defecate or urinate into the mouth of another slave. Bashir then said, "When Mrs. Palin invokes slavery, she doesn't just prove her rank ignorance. She confirms if anyone truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate."
Phil Donahue's 2002 program Donahue was canceled in late February 2003 during the buildup to the Iraq War. Despite earlier claims of cancellation because of low ratings, Donahue was MSNBC's highest rated show that month.
A leaked NBC internal study revealed that the studio was concerned that Donahue would act as "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."